These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he who stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

-Thomas Paine, The Crisis

AFK_Weye Commentaries: Epilogue
By Dwip April 10, 2019, 7:12 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

And so, here we are at the end of the road. 13 years later, what did all of this mean, and why did I just write 50 pages of commentary on it?

(more…)


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AFK_Weye Commentaries: Side Quests
By Dwip April 9, 2019, 4:40 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

In this entry, we’ll be talking about most of AFK_Weye’s various side quests and miscellaneous things, from gathering plants for Tullia Aratorius to raiding deserted islands for Spurius Pecuniarius. Be warned that this one is a very long entry.

Nerussa

Something I thought would be a neat idea was for the innkeeper to be the town gossip, who would give you some details about the people in town, give you leads on quests, that sort of thing – very much in the mold of a D&D-style bartender or the like. It was also going to tie into a system of NPC conversational dialogue that was going to be voiced for 2.0, but the voice work fell through and something broke in the conversation system that I could never nail down, so all of that never really made it in, though sometimes you get remnants of it.

Nerussa, however, worked just fine, and she’ll happily tell you all about everyone in Weye, updating her gossip based on various quests completed, whether the person in question is alive or dead, that sort of thing. I also gave her a bit of backstory and a bit of a crush on Maeron, just for the hell of it.

Alyssan

Alyssan shows up somewhere during the main questline and takes up residence in the inn. She was meant to accomplish a couple of things.

First, and I’ve talked about this before in relation to Mireena, AFK_Weye suffers in my opinion from a lack of strong and interesting female characters. That was going to get fixed with the Mireena/Orlando quest that never happened, but since it never happened, well. So I made Alyssan who she is as a nod to that – she’s a bit too much of a badass, and the connection to the two previous games is maybe a bit over the top, but there’s a reason why that is.

Second, and more importantly, I thought it would be neat to have a bard in residence who could regale people with the tales of your exploits across the land. You get a bit of that with people everywhere calling you the Champion of Cyrodiil and whatnot, but I thought it would be cool to go a bit more in depth, and I spent a lot of time thinking about which quests from both AFK_Weye and the main game I wanted to add in. Alyssan actually has a very complex dialogue system that changes based on the player’s sex and various choices made during various quests. I’m pretty proud of it, and it was one of the models for that NPC conversation system I talked about with Nerussa.

Ginseng For Tullia

This is sort of a strange quest. On the one hand, I’m not a big fan of “sell me common items!” quests. I don’t think they’re worth very much. On the other hand, I put one in here (and will put in another relating to Tullia’s husband Marcus) because it was easy to do, why not, and it hopefully gives a reward in the form of baked goods. It’s also something to give Tullia a bit of character other than just standing around farming all day.

In a larger sense, the Aratorius family got put in primarily so Weye wasn’t just a fishing village, it had other economic activity as well. It seemed beyond belief that Weye wouldn’t have any farmers, so I added a farm and a couple of farmers. Were this Skyrim, they’d have a couple of kids as well, I think.

Elemental Arrows

One of the original goals behind AFK_Weye, and the entire reason Lucius’ shop even exists, was to replicate the Area Effect Arrows plugin from Morrowind. One of the problems I always had was that said arrows were extremely powerful, which was fine when AFK_Weye was something 5 people were ever going to use but began to raise balance issues once it started being a thing that 5,000 people were using.

The solution I came up with was somewhat convoluted – talk to Lucius, who tells you to give arrows and atronach salts to Elahai to enchant some arrows that Lucius will then sell to you. While it all seemed logical at the time, in hindsight maybe I should have just charged way more for them or level limit them or something. Not one of my better efforts.

Goods For Thalonias

In the early days of AFK_Weye, Thalonias started with a fairly obscene amount of gold. It was, after all, one of the stated goals of the first versions – replicating Arthmoor’s Morrowind merchants who all had tons of cash to buy high level stuff, a problem that only got worse in Oblivion.

Once I actually released the thing to the public, however, I started thinking fairly hard about that – one might easily consider Thalonias to be game-breakingly powerful. With all the thought and care I had otherwise put into balancing issues with the mod, that wouldn’t stand. And so I set about changing it. He’d still get a ton of cash, you’d just have to work for it.

The solution I came up with involved first recovering the goods the goblins took, which I just sort of used as a hook in Down in a Hole and then never really followed up on. Then I decided to have him strike some trade deals. Since there aren’t really any factories or wholesalers in Cyrodiil, that meant going direct to other merchants, and of each type Thalonias needed to emulate. So far so good. And it gave me a chance to work out some ideas I was having on speech checks – depending on how much the merchant likes you, the better the deal you end up getting, and if they don’t like you, they won’t deal with you whatsoever. After removing the ability to just go to the Imperial City merchants (that would be too easy, and they’re the competition anyway), it was pretty much ready to go.

It wasn’t ever designed that way, but there are a number of quests in AFK_Weye that can easily be done while just sort of wandering around doing other things. Oh, you’re in Chorrol today? Well, what about talking to a bookseller for Thalonias? It was a happy accident that works in AFK_Weye’s favor, enriching the player’s experience outside of Weye as well as within it. There’s plenty to do in town, but when you’re out wandering around you can help Thalonias or look for Armingerius or find a translator for those tablets or whatever.

Forget Me Not

This is Lucius’ big quest. Once I started working out the relationship between him, Publius Candidus, and Thalonias, I pretty quickly came up with the idea of Julia, helped no doubt by frequent watchings of Cowboy Bebop. I’m a sucker for this sort of romantic lost love sort of thing (ironically, I was in a very happy relationship when I wrote this quest), and for some reason it just sort of fit that Lucius would have this kind of backstory about him.

Thematically, I think it’s a great quest. It establishes a whole mountain of character backstory (Thalonias had no idea Julia ever existed despite years of friendship! Publius is actually Lucius’ prospective father in law!), reuniting lost lovers is about as feel good a quest as you can possibly have, and it’s cool having a ghost NPC just wandering around town.

Mechanically, however, I’m not sure this is the best thing I’ve ever done. Because man is there a lot of travelling going on here. From Lucius, you go to talk to Thalonias. From Thalonias you have to trek all the way up past Chorrol to talk to Publius, and from there all the way down to Skingrad to talk to Julia.

That’s a lot by itself, but then to find Armingerius, unless you happen to get lucky in your travels, you have to go talk to some guards in Skingrad, then travel to three different inns along the southern roads, one of which (Faregyl) only makes sense if you’ve got a road mod installed to make a direct path, and one of which (the Imperial Bridge Inn) is a vast distance from anything. Assuming you do all that, only then do I quest marker Armingerius for you so you can go fight him and get a ring you have to take all the way back to Skingrad before going all the way back to Weye. Whew.

I know what I was thinking. A cross-Cyrodiil manhunt could be fun and interesting. Travel to a bunch of different inns people don’t usually go to. Which is fine as far as it goes, and I’ve heard from people who did the hunt for Armingerius in fits and starts while doing other things and had fun with it, but how do I find Armingerius remains one of the most frequently asked help questions.

So I think I probably could have done that better. If nothing else, the Imperial Bridge Inn was, well, a bridge too far. Cut it out and things get a lot better. Having him only take the Skingrad/Gottshaw/Anvil route might have been better as well, just to make a clearer path. The rest of that trek needs to stay in, unfortunately – the whole reason Julia is where she is is because I really really liked that pool. That pool deserves a marriage proposal.

Lastly, one of the things I probably could have worked at, and something I think I got better at as the mod went on, is my penchant for overly melodramatic dialogue. I mean holy crap Lucius. Goth much? I don’t know. Maybe it adds to the atmosphere. I thought it was a bit much.

That said, one of those little details I enjoy? Notice how Lucius isn’t exactly young? He’s been sitting on this one for a long time. You’re gonna carry that weight, brother.

What Lies In Names

The stable in AFK_Weye was a very, very late development – except for minor bugfixes, it was pretty much the last thing ever added. A stable seems like a pretty obvious addition for a manor the size of Weye Manor, which is probably why pretty much everybody and their dog asked for it pretty much from day one.

I always resisted, however, for a couple of major reasons. First, I really liked that field across the street from the manor, which was the only really logical spot. Second, Weye was already a nightmare of compatibility patches, so why go tempting fate? Third, and the one that really sealed the deal for me, was that given the inordinately hacked together way stables worked in Oblivion, it was never going to actually work like anybody would actually want it to work – your horse was never actually going to get stabled in the stable.

Well enough, I thought, but people seriously would not shut up about the damn stable, so by the time active development started winding down I pretty much threw up my hands and decided to give the people what they wanted.

Of course, being me there’s a quest attached to the final member of the AFK_Weye NPC family, and being me I got cute about it. I mean, sure, there’s the obvious way to start the quest, which is to have a relatively high disposition with Horse-Breath and just go talk to him. Easily enough done through the normal course of things.

And then there’s the other way.

What people don’t generally know is that Weye’s argonians will, every Sundas after midnight, stroll on down to the beach where they have a hidden grotto with what’s sort of kind of meant to be a hist tree buried within. They don’t really talk about it, but there it is, and they bow down and pray to the thing, which is kind of wild.

This little easter egg is in because the original idea for this quest was going to be about argonians being persecuted for strange religious practices. I got persuaded that that was a bit much for this newer, fluffy bunny Empire, but I liked the idea of a secret hist grotto, so kept that in.

What I ended up with tackled the thing in a slightly different fashion. I’d always felt that argonians had always been treated a little shabbily, and especially in mods and such you’d get plenty of joke argonian names, which struck me as being fairly opportune for a little moralizing on my part as well as an opportunity for a little bit of reversal. To wit, everybody calls him by the demeaning Horse-Breath, but Gam-Neh is actually a respected elder of his people, trying to live out his remaining years in respect and tranquility.

I liked it. Despite being a bleeding heart liberal I try not to get overly socially conscious in AFK_Weye, but I saw a place to make a bit of social commentary and I took it.

A Wolf in the Fold/Wolf Pelts For Marcus

A Wolf in the Fold is easily the most freeform quest in AFK_Weye, and one of the most troublesome. It came about for a couple of main reasons. Mostly I wanted to see if I could, and also because one of the things I wanted for Weye was to give everybody their own quest, and with the exception of poor Sextus Acipenseris, I managed it. This one checks off Murg and sorta kinda Marcus Aratorius, who I admit I could have done a bit more with.

I also wanted to have some sort of mystery quest, both because they’re a common enough trope and AFK_Weye didn’t have one, and because I’d never really been all that great at writing them, and wanted to see if I could pull off that sort of thing. I’m not sure if I did, but it was a fun exercise.

Given how freeform the quest is, there are a few ways to get from finding the bloodstain to actually finding it yourself. You can try and follow the tracks yourself, which is pretty tough, or you can ask around town. If you do, you end up with a couple of choices – Maeron wants to you to save the wolves, and Marcus Aratorius wants you to kill them (and will pay you for hides).

In addition to giving some fun roleplaying and character building options for Maeron and Marcus (which will lead to optional rewards later) as well as finding ways to involve the whole town in the quest, I wanted to set up what follows as a sort of grey moral area. After all, Maeron’s got a point – wolves are just being wolves – but Marcus has one too – wolves are dangerous creatures and need to be kept away from sheep and farms.

Assuming the player doesn’t just track the wolves themselves, I thought this was a good quest to show off that hey, Lucius used to be a Legion forester, and what better obvious choice to help you do some tracking? In addition to being a reward for players who went around talking to people (something AFK_Weye rewards heavily), it also gives the player a chance to pal around with Lucius, who is probably pretty friendly to the player at this point.

The intended bit with this wolf here outside the den is to provide a hard choice for the player – kill a wolf, which might anger Maeron? Or avoid the fight altogether, which can be done through calming magic or just running straight for the den. Whether or not this choice actually works for the player or not I’m not quite sure. I’d love to see the breakdown between people who kill the wolf and people who don’t.

So, we sort of take this for granted in the era of Skyrim, but making this cave exit was kind of hard and kind of a big deal back in the Oblivion days. Looks a whole hell of a lot better than the cave exits with doors though, which is sort of the point. Load doors don’t have to literally be doors.

Noam, obviously, is a pretty direct rip from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, which are some of my favorites and which I was rereading during production. He also gives me a way to introduce dialogue without trying to figure out how to make the player talk to wolves. In keeping with the freeform nature of the quest, I tried to have a bunch of ways to deal with Noam – you can fight him, you can lie to him, you can try to peacefully solve the situation. The goal with this whole quest is to get something as close as I could to what tabletop D&D looks like, which is limited purely by the player’s imagination.

Too, the mudcrab meat thing is pretty trivial if you’ve been helping out the town at all – Nerussa and the various fishermen should provide you with enough if you’ve been helpful to them. Again, it’s a chance to see people further reward how you’ve helped the town, and to keep the player involved with Weye and its inhabitants.

Or you can just go kill ten mudcrabs, I guess.

The thing about this sort of quest is that it requires very careful tracking of all the variables involved in order to not end up with a bugged out quest. In the case of A Wolf in the Fold, it had an absolutely outrageous number of issues related to the (many) possible endings, requiring fixes in every patch after 2.0. In fact, the final patch (2.32), largely came about because somebody found four missing endings I hadn’t accounted for despite extensive flowcharting and diagramming.

While I enjoy the quest and its freeform nature a lot, it’s fairly easy for me to see why more quest designers don’t do this sort of thing – it’s not a trivial task, even for quests a fraction of this complexity.

With a Hungry Heart

As I recall it, the thought process behind including this quest went something along the lines of:

“Hey, you should do Siege at Firemoth.”

“Yeah, that sounds cool.”

And, because this was the 2.0 development cycle and literally nothing was impossible, that’s basically what I did. For those of you playing along at home, this is the second Morrowind official plugin I’ve pretty much jacked wholesale, to say nothing of an entire mod or two. I’m not subtle about my influences here.

Also for those of you playing along at home, this is one of the most complicated quests in the entire mod, with a whole lot of moving pieces. I wanted to try a whole bunch of different things with this quest, and some of them even succeeded.

One of those things was playing around with thievery and the idea of a more morally ambiguous quest. It should be fairly obvious by the time you get to Fletcher that Spurius Pecuniarius (literally fake money in Latin, so a bit of foreshadowing there) isn’t entirely a great guy, which Fletcher will confirm to you. I give players a whole bunch of opportunities to tell Spurius they want nothing to do with any of this, because by the end of this map sequence the player will have broken into Fletcher’s house, committed several crimes, and maybe fought Fletcher and/or his dog.

Truly the stuff that heroes are made of.

Actually making this scene on board the ship work was a huge technical challenge – it’s one of two places in AFK_Weye that uses voiced dialogue, and there’s some complex scripting and AI work going on to make it all work. While I probably didn’t need to go to this much effort, it’s my feeling that this sort of thing is what set AFK_Weye apart from so many other mods back in 2009-2010 – not many people were doing this sort of thing or had the skills to attempt it. So of course I was going to try to pull it off. And it’s a little wonky, but it mostly succeeds. Usually. Except for the crash bugs that never got ironed out entirely. This is Oblivion we’re talking about here.

Part of the reason this is such a complicated quest is because after not quite doing worldspaces to the level I would have liked during When You Wish Upon a Star I decided to do it right for With a Hungry Heart. There’s a full-featured multi-cell island here with a village and a large hill with several entrances into a dungeon. I obscure most of it with rain, but for what’s actually a fairly straightforward quest an awful lot of building went into it.

Another bit of complexity I brought upon myself was that I wanted Spurius and the crew to be moderately helpful even as they essentially stick you out on this island by yourself to fight Akatosh knows how many skeletons. So I decided to have Elgil cast lightning bolts at things within a certain range of the ship. To do so was an interesting scripting challenge involving trigger zones and an activator on the ship to cast the spells. Of course, the first iteration of that system forgot to check if the things in the trigger zones were, you know, actually monsters, which is why you can see Elgil gleefully blasting away at the poor docks.

Bugs are fun and not always obvious at first blush. I’ve said before that I have a lot of sympathy for Bethesda about this sort of thing, because I can’t even tell you how many post-it notes and pieces of scratch paper I murdered documenting the exact same sort of dumb stuff everyone bitches about them doing. QA is hard.

Another thing about the Elgil lightning thing is that I wanted to try and do something to mitigate the rather extreme amounts of skeleton combat the player is likely to face on this island. While faithful to the original Siege at Firemoth, it quickly becomes a fairly rote matter of hacking one’s way through a zillion skeletons, so if I could make that process slightly more interesting I definitely wanted to do that.

True to its progenitor, much of With a Hungry Heart is spent tracking down clues to open different sections of the dungeon, including this note that tells the player that not only has everyone not been entirely truthful about this place and their intentions, they are in fact involved in a hunt to find some secrets.

Which, I confess that I had mostly forgotten the various hints and clues and secrets involved in this dungeon to the point that I had to consult my own walkthrough at one point. I have a slight suspicion that of the players who made it this far, a whole bunch of them ended up being highly frustrated by the whole thing, though apparently not as frustrated as they were by that one switch in Kingscrest Cavern.

At a certain point in any development cycle you start adding features pretty much because you can. Why did I script the ability to light the braziers in this little chapel? I honestly have no idea other than hey, why not, I already had the scripting from the manor anyway, and it would be cool.

These caverns are a maze in at least three parts. First you go into the secret passage to get a key that lets you into the catacombs beneath the chapel. Then you have to go find a switch to open a secret door back in the forementioned secret passage. That door leads you back into a blocked off section of the catacombs on the other side of a chasm that leads to the end as well as a secret exit.

All of this seemed like a very good idea at the time, and it’s altogether true to the way Siege at Firemoth worked, but I can’t help but think I got a little too clever with it all. It would be one thing if you didn’t have to hew through 20-30 skeletons to get through it, but it’s actually physically exhausting doing all that.

Again, true to the original, but I’m not sure it was a good idea in 2002 or in 2010.

All I can say about this section is do you remember that bit in Firemoth where you get attacked by like, 30 rats? I figured if I was going to make a homage to Firemoth, make a homage to Firemoth, so you’re gonna get attacked by like 30 rats.

Again, I’m not sure if any of this was a good idea now or then, but such is my slavish obedience.

Why is there a hallway full of purple flames? I don’t really know, but it looks friggin’ sweet. Which is exactly where there is a hallway full of purple flames.

This never entirely gets explained, but the backstory for the island had something to do with the artifact that you’re about to retrieve driving a cleric mad and turning him into a lich, whereupon he burned the island to the ground. None of that ever actually gets explained to the player, and in all honesty that’s probably fine. The important thing is that the player can tell that there is a cohesive backstory to the dungeon regardless of whether or not they actually understand what it is entirely. Your dungeon needs to make sense, as I have gone on about at some length.

Hopefully by this point, I’ve telegraphed to the player that Spurius is probably going to betray you. Whereas in the main questline I wanted some of the plot twists to be shocking to the player, with this quest I was trying to convey the sort of tension you get in heist movies where you’re pretty sure the criminal next to you is going to stab you in the back, but you’re never entirely sure until surprise, he does it.

Surprise, he did it.

This is a surprisingly difficult fight, featuring as it does three high level combatants who you may or may not be ready to fight after having hewn your way through like, 30 skeletons and a bunch of rats and a lich. Again, I feel that this is true to the spirit of the original.

I confess that I sort of cut the end of the quest off pretty fast, but unlike, say, the main questline, there’s no real need for any sort of denouement here. The villain lies dead, you have the treasure, absolutely nobody is going to miss Spurius back in Weye, and the real accomplishment is in your heart rather than having a bunch of NPCs tell you how cool you are.

Zombies in the Mist

One of the more subtle things about Maeron is that pretty much everything he says is a veiled reference to something. The spotted owl controversy in Oregon in the early 1990s? Yeah, got that and a few others. So, I figured, wouldn’t it be funny if that bit about zombie attacks he says when you first meet him turned out to be true? A sort of easter egg quest as it were? I mean, why not?

Obviously, this turned out to be a lot more than I originally bargained for, starting with this intro right here. Turns out you have to be judicious in your AI management or you can crash the game while moving sleeping NPCs, which turns out to not be good.

Apart from being a joke, this quest also gave me the opportunity to do a nice defend the town mission, which I hadn’t really done in any serious way despite some possibility of fighting during Death and Taxes or Property Rights. This turned out to have a number of unique challenges.

On the one hand, as anybody who’s ever sat through a dragon or vampire attack in Skyrim knows, herding NPCs to keep them from killing themselves is hard, and I went through a lot of acrobatics to try and keep it from happening here. I was not altogether successful, as you can tell by the corpse of poor Gam-Neh there.

The other major issue was how to inform the player of how much zombie killing remained to be done, because in early versions there was always that one zombie…somewhere…that you couldn’t find and kill. I could have quest markered all the zombies, but that seemed like overkill. What I ended up doing was having a ticking counter every time you killed a zombie, which I felt was a nice compromise.

AFK_Weye, by the end of its run, had several intense periods of bug fixing, a couple of beta periods, and a fair amount of public scrutiny. I spent a lot of time fixing bugs in a fairly fanatical fashion.

And yet, despite the fact that I know I fixed this door several times, part of it never loaded. Ten years after release. Oblivion, man. I dunno.

I always felt a little weird about putting an Ayleid ruin under Weye, because let’s face it, the mod has already leaned pretty hard on the Ayleids in quests, and it’s not like there’s an Ayleid ruin right next door or anything, two if you count the Imperial City. At the end of the day, though, Ayleids are cool.

Getting that Ayleid lich there to cast at that light pillar was fairly difficult to get right, and even now he only grudgingly makes the effort. At some point you sort of have to stop trying and throw up your hands on some things.

We’ll get a little more into this guy and his backstory in the next quest, but at this stage I didn’t have much of a plan, since, well, joke quest, right? He’s animating zombies to kill everyone! Kerrach this is not.

Of note, the Staff of Weyandir is one of the very few stabs I made at custom weapons and armor of my own design. There are a couple, but for the most part I didn’t want to deal with anything too complex like animation or bones or any of that. I’m a statics guy.

Later I’ll go on to design giant multi-story mausoleums and castles, but I’m still not good at the weapons and armor stuff. Too complicated, says the guy who regularly does complex geometry.

Yeah, I dunno either.

Shiny Things

By the time 2.0 rolled around, I was a whole lot more serious about the things in the mod. An easter egg quest like Zombies in the Mist was fine in 1.x, but for 2.0 it was time to actually flesh out that underground ruin and that lich and his plans a little bit.

Also, and this bit is really important, Maliq needed a quest. What better way to do that than to pay off his constant mentions of shiny things?

One of the things I wanted to explore in this quest and Weyandir in general was an underwater dungeon of the type seen in Morrowind shipwrecks but never really touched on in Oblivion in any real way. Of course, this was hampered by a serious lack of underwater enemies, which is why this section mostly ended up being an underwater maze. I don’t think it’s the greatest design of all time, but given the constraints I like it as a change of pace if nothing else.

It also let me set up this room, which is one of my favorite set pieces in the whole mod. I didn’t think anybody had really done a ruin with waterfalls in it before, and I wanted to make something cool out of it. Despite some issues with Oblivion’s sound handling (it glitches a lot here), I’m very happy with this whole area.

For the record, the Weyandir tablets and their glow mapping is directly inspired by the Lost Spires and discussion of doing glow maps in that mod. I wanted to try doing it, and I did.

Lorewise, this is basically a journal that lets me lay out the plot of that Ayleid lich you killed in Zombies in the Mist. It never really gets more complex than I hate everyone and I’m going to summon zombies with this ancient artifact and kill them all muahahaha! But at least it’s there now.

In contrast with Zombies in the Mist, which is meant to be played all the way through in one quick run, Shiny Things was meant to be one of those quests that you put on the back burner and finish in fits and starts as you roam around Cyrodiil doing other things. That’s why the search for a scholar isn’t made entirely obvious, and it’s possible to complete this section in a myriad of different ways with different people, from Umbaccano to the Mages Guild, all with different rewards. Likewise, they direct you to a variety of different priests.

Setting all that up took an almost obscene level of effort and a lot of checking the UESP sections on various NPCs. As a side effect of that, I needed a fallback NPC in case somehow all of the other NPCs had died for some reason. Enter Ambrehil, who is perfectly content to sit about in the Bravil Mages Guild reading until you need her. Her reward for the tablets isn’t the best, but she’s always there.

One thing I wasn’t particularly upfront about is the magic required to complete the quest. Finding all the right spells and scrolls can be a quest in and of itself, but as I said, this was not meant to be a fast burn of a quest.

Shiny Things was also not meant to be a comhat-heavy quest. There are plenty of those in the mod, but I wanted one that was mostly just about roaming around finding things. You’ll notice that throughout AFK_Weye – a mix of various types of quests – because I wanted to keep the player from becoming burnt out on one particular type.

Having learned how to do them for Kerrach, I got a little crazy with cutscenes and effects in AFK_Weye 2.0. This one is mostly a retread of things I did in Kerrach – the lightning from the Storm Spire, some screen shake. Looks cool though.

Shiny Things was meant to be an experiment with a couple of other things. For one, after the quest is over, Elahai will make you a couple different reward items, which was an experiment in doing rewards that way. Also, the Welkynd Stone chamber is easily accessible from the surface, which allowed me to put in enchanting and spellmaking altars in a logical way, rounding out the services Weye offered to the player.


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AFK_Weye Commentaries: Kerrach
By Dwip April 8, 2019, 8:45 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

Moving on from the main quest, this time we’re going to discuss AFK_Weye’s most beloved sidequests and location, Down in a Hole, Beneath Your Darkest Fears, Freedom For My People, and the dungeon of Kerrach.

Down In a Hole

So, there’s a lot going on with this quest, Breakneck Lair, and Kerrach after it. And we’ll get to that. First, let’s talk about Elahai for a moment. Weye, of course, needed a magic vendor since I was adding everything else in, and because that’s a fairly high powered sort of thing, I wanted to stick it behind a fairly high powered quest, which also serves the purpose of giving Thalonias a quest (at the time his only one) and fills in some of his backstory. Thalonias himself, you will recall, is a giant Morrowind callback, so it made sense to stick his quest up in those deserted mountains northeast of Cheydinhal.

Elahai will go on to become one of the central figures in Weye, with roles in a bunch of quests, pretty much because I enjoyed writing for him and kept finding excuses for him to do stuff. We’ll get to those later.

One of the things I wanted to make sure of with Elahai’s quest is to make it accessible from the get go. You don’t ever need to have talked to Thalonias in order to stumble into Breakneck Lair and free him, you can just do it. I’ve never been a big fan of dungeons that stay locked up until a quest starts, so I made sure to make it something you could just run into out in the world.

That said, I’ve always wondered if maybe I wasn’t a little too hardcore with the goblin ambush aboveground. It’s a lot of fight for some random path in the middle of nowhere, and I might choose to do it differently were I to do so again. Also fading in the goblins right in front of the player is pretty amateur hour, but in my defense this was pretty early in my quest designing day.

As to the dungeon itself, I should state right up front that Breakneck Lair, along with Kerrach after it, is very much a response to Oblivion’s other dungeons. I set out to make the sort of dungeon I wanted to play, with the sorts of features I wanted to see. I was pretty explicit about that in my 2010 post On Valve Level Design where I break a lot of my design decisions for the dungeon down. I’ll paraphrase some of that here.

The first principle was using varied types of environments – fort ruins inside a cave, for instance. Oblivion pretty much never did any of that, and I thought it would make for a very interesting dungeon if I did so. Why is half of this Imperial fort buried underground and why is it on top of an Ayleid ruin? I don’t know either because I never got around to explaining it, but it sure is a lot more intriguing than some random cave with a couple of ogres and a mountain lion in it, isn’t it?

The second thing I wanted to do was attempt to make use of vertical space. This is pretty difficult in a game like Oblivion (versus a game like Fallout) because it’s a lot harder to fight guys with swords on different levels versus guys with guns, though you can put in some guys with bows or magic. Thus, Breakneck Lair features three (or four depending on how you count it) different levels all wrapped around this one giant tower. You can fight goblins on different levels, and though it’s not entirely perfect, it’s a lot of fun to stealth around sniping. I think I did the concept a bit better in Kerrach, but it’s not bad here.

Another thing I wanted to do was better use of traps. Most traps in Oblivion are horribly obvious, which makes them all too easy to simply avoid. Some of the traps in Breakneck Lair, on the other hand, are pretty tough unless you’ve got good vision. There’s one at the beginning that usually gets me, and I made it. I also tried to make it so you could use some of the traps to murder goblins, though I’m not entirely sure how successful I was with that. I can envision a different central chamber with more goblins and a log trap that falls on top of them, for instance. That could have been very fun.

The final thing I wanted to do with Breakneck Lair is set up Kerrach, which by design was a totally hidden dungeon with no connection to the outside. The bottom chamber with the Ayleid architecture and the reveal of the dremora goblin chief was supposed to be a shock to the player, and a tease that something much greater was going on beneath the surface. If I did my job right here, and comments have led me to believe that I have, people that have seen this room should be extremely intrigued as to what awaits them deeper in.

As a final note, it’s extremely gratifying to me that the things I’m talking about in that post I linked and here are all things that are present in like, every single dungeon in Skyrim. That’s not to say that Bethesda took their cues from me, of course (I wish), but they really got better at dungeon design in the intervening five years, and it really shows.

I got there first, though. Nyah, Todd.

Beneath Your Darkest Fears/Freedom For My People

As creators, we tell ourselves that we love our babies equally. But we have our favorites, and Kerrach is mine. Judging by reactions, it’s a lot of other people’s as well, so let’s talk about that some.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Kerrach is basically my thesis on high level dungeon design, hidden away at the bottom of a sidequest dungeon. That’s pretty weird, but like I talked about in Down in a Hole, I think it works pretty well – tease the player, get them intrigued, and then hit them with things they’ve never seen before.

As far as it goes, I think the intro to the Kerrach dungeon accomplishes that. Ayleid ruins in lava caves isn’t something you really ever saw in Oblivion dungeons, much less fighting several dremora at the same time to get across a crumbling and trapped bridge. One of the things I wanted to emphasize in Kerrach was the use of mass combat, which I didn’t think had really been done very much in Oblivion previously. If I was going to have a high level dungeon, I wanted to fill it with challenging, novel combats that people weren’t used to.

I also thought it would be a really cool idea to give the player a vantage point to watch their soon to be ally and quest-giver the King of Kerrach fight some dremora. Again, this sort of thing wasn’t much done in Oblivion, though it is straight out of the Valve games I’m sort of cribbing from here. Skyrim and Fallout will later do this sort of thing, but in Oblivion? Not really.

A lot of the inspiration for the quests here comes from a sidequest in Baldur’s Gate 2 where the player meets some ancient followers of a dead god who are bound by pact to serve until the end of time, but they’re tired and pretty much just want to die now that none of this matters anymore. Of course, I switched things around here – As the ghosts will make clear, Kerrach pretty much brought its own destruction down on itself, and kind of earned what they got – the Ayleids were never a fluffy bunny rabbit sort of race. Still, though, at some point maybe being tortured for eternity is a bit much.

As quests go, Beneath Your Darkest Fears is pretty straightforward. Find the two MacGuffins needed to progress forward, then kill the bad guy. Simple. For a dungeon crawl like this, you don’t necessarily need very much, and unlike a quest such as Forget Me Not with a lot of NPCs and a lot of exposition, most of the emotional heavy lifting is done through environmental storytelling, with the big beats saved for the beginning and end with the king.

The devil is in the details, of course.

Sometimes we do things for the sake of balance that we wouldn’t otherwise do. This bedroll is here because without it there isn’t anywhere to sleep in all of Kerrach, which I thought was unnecessarily harsh considering how long of a dungeon crawl it is. Of course, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense for a thousands of years old bedroll to be sitting here, and had I thought it through a bit harder I might have rigged up one of those stone Ayleid beds somewhere, but that’s the benefit of hindsight.

The very first glimmer of what would become Kerrach happened one day when I saw very clearly in my mind a ruined Ayleid city surrounded by lava. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, and it took a lot of effort to make that vision a reality, but I wanted to see some Ayleid ruins in lava, so I made it happen. The power to make our dreams reality is unspeakably rewarding.

This is actually the second version of Kerrach I constructed. The first version was…slightly more primitive.

Those are all various Oblivion boulders, rotated and moved to create a giant cave. That was ok for the 1.x versions of Kerrach, but it had a lot of problems – those boulders are very high poly, and that many of them was enough to bring the computers of 2009 to their knees. Not so great, but I didn’t much have the skill to deal with it at the time. By the time 2.0 rolled around, however, I was able to construct a new set of cave meshes in a weekend that not only cut down on the poly count, they looked better. I could still stand to do some work on the island, but for the most part it works.

In both versions, the overlook here is doing a couple of useful things. All of the main areas of the city are immediately obvious, as well as providing a visual spectacle. In addition, it will soon become obvious that the player will need to fight through a fairly large number of dremora, which will be previewed shortly down the stairs.

The second quest for Kerrach, Freedom For My People, is meant to provide a bunch of little side objectives as the player meanders through the various areas of the city. It’s also meant to give a little bit of characterization to the Ayleids of Kerrach – as I said, they’re not nice guys, but they’ve still suffered a lot, and maybe changed a little bit. Take this guy, for instance: he’s in the Buroseli, which is some sick twisted Ayleid torture dungeon. So there’s some karmic justice that he’s being tortured forever. And yet.

There are two main areas of Kerrach before one gets to the central spire: the Buroseli and the Ageasel. The Buroseli, which this is one of the first chambers of, is sort of my meditation on traps and platforming in dungeons. I’m not a big fan of platforming, so I wanted to see if I could do it in a slightly more palatable fashion. By breaking it into short chunks I think I succeeded fairly well, but mileage may vary. As for the traps, I’m still pretty proud of that big chunk of stone that crumbles into the lava in this picture. It’s pretty fiendish.

The Rending Spire, the second half of the Buroseli dungeon, is an attempt to do something interesting with vertical space and Oblivion towers. On the whole I find it only partially successful – this bottom level with the blades and elevator and the dremora certainly looks really cool, but the combat mostly involves dremora or you falling off of the ledges into the pits to each side. As I recall, I was limited heavily by geometry and trying to fit that elevator in, but I’m sure I could have done something better.

The upper half of the spire was designed to be a close quarters arena with a very dangerous melee opponent and environmental hazards (the elevator usually ends up going back down, leaving a giant pit in the center). For the most part, this works fairly well, and much more successfully than its counterpart in the Ageasel, which we’ll discuss shortly. Provided the Master Torturer doesn’t fall into the hole, it’s a very tense combat, especially for ranged characters, which is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Where the Buroseli was about platforming and traps, the Ageasel is about puzzles, the largest of which is what we in the MUD community used to call a warp maze. Ten years after the fact, I’m still not entirely sure that this was a good idea – warp mazes were always controversial at best and hated at worst, and I think the Ageasel confuses more people than the rest of the mod put together. Still, I think the different environments both add to the ambience and make it work.

One thing that doesn’t work particularly well, however, is this lightning trap stone room in the second chamber. It’s extremely high damage for what it was designed to be (a little bit of harassment), and the nature of the portals will funnel characters back through here multiple times, potentially causing them to deplete many of their resources. I probably should have lowered the damage or found a way to turn it off.

There’s some irony to this dremora summoning circle in that it’s entirely possible to skip it – you can progress to the fourth chamber by turning around and going out the same portal you came in, without needing to fight anything. The other devious bit is the summoning circle in the middle will actually summon more daedra if you walk across the runes. This gets most players at least once.

I forget the source that described the Ayleids as wrapping incredibly devious ways to kill you inside of incredibly beautiful things, but I wanted this little garden to convey that. A green, tranquil garden, untouched by Oblivion, where deer romp around in peace.

And then the deer try to kill you, because of course the deer are going to try to kill you.

One of AFK_Weye’s most frequently asked questions is “Where do I get the ritual scroll for that ghost in the Ageasel?” It’s right over here by this bench. I swear it wasn’t supposed to be that hard to find, really it wasn’t. I think one of the deer likes to die over there a lot, which probably doesn’t help people find it, but there it is.

The actually most frequently asked question of AFK_Weye is, however, How do I solve the runestone puzzle in Kerrach? So let’s talk about that for a bit.

It’s genesis came from me watching an anime called Otogizoshi wherein the heroes find magical stones attuned to the five classical Chinese elements, which just so happen to work really well in an Elder Scrolls context. In the anime it was possible to align the stones for either beneficial purposes or malevolent ones, which I thought was a really cool idea, so I stole it wholesale.

The second layer of the puzzle was adding a series of tablets laying out the proper order of the stones…written in ancient Ayleid. Which won’t really help you, unless you properly figure out the central tablet, which helpfully gives you two of the five. Of course, it’s written from the perspective of the dremora mage you just killed, so doing it the way he says is beneficial just summons more daedra.

Yeah, it’s overly complicated, probably a giant pain in the ass, and even I use the walkthrough whenever I play, but I’ve always liked this puzzle. In a lot of ways it’s the true boss fight of the Ageasel, which is probably fitting.

The Storm Spire is the second half of the Ageasel, and between it and the Rending Spire the less successful of the two. And here’s the thing about that – aesthetically, the Storm Spire is cool as hell. It’s this crazy tower floating in space, with spooky white lights, bolts of lightning crashing down at you, and a perilous spiraling climb around the tower to get to the top where you fight the boss…

…who then promptly falls off into the void and dies about 9 times out of 10. So that’s kind of a failure. Actually that’s a lot of a failure. With a larger arena (and stairs you could actually walk up instead of jumping, oops), I think this could have been a really awesome area where you would have to dodge the boss as well as lightning strikes and probably a storm atronach, but I never quite got it there. Ah well.

Also I’m not always a big fan of shortcuts to the dungeon exit, but I probably should have added a portal back to the start of the Ageasel just so that death stone room didn’t kill you after all your hard work. Live and learn.

There are a couple of things I wanted to do with the Spire of Shattered Hopes. First, I wanted to reinforce the idea of the dremora takeover by replacing the central Ayleid spire with an even larger daedric one. On top of that, I wanted to play around with the spire concept, because I always felt Oblivion didn’t do much with the Oblivion realm concept. I’m not sure I succeeded, but I certainly tried.

Thematically, I wanted the player to feel that they were going deeper into darkness and evil the further they made it up the spire, from twisted garden to twilight to nearly pitch black darkness until you felt like that guy. Kind of subtle, but I wanted to do something slightly outside the norm.

It’s important from time to time to offer the player some room to appreciate what they’ve just come through. This little moment, when the player emerges from the Spire of Shattered Hopes back into the city to replace the pommelstone provides that. Also, I wanted an excuse to use some of Oblivion’s animated effects, because they were very cool for the time and most dungeons just didn’t bother.

I didn’t necessarily set out to do it this way, but the fight with Asharkalz at the Throne of Destruction is possibly the hardest fight in the game in a lot of ways. Asharkalz is an absolute tank with high resistances, a beefy weapon, and is absolutely a match for the unprepared player. His only weakness is a subpar ranged attack, which means I usually end up kiting him around the level while I pump arrows into him. I find this tense and exciting, but I’m sure mileage varies.

Yeah, I spent way too much time making the evil throne look super badass evil. Fun fact, you’re supposed to be able to loot the rubies out of the skulls, but the collision is apparently kind of messed up and you can’t. I swear it used to work.

In any event, the whole Throne of Destruction was my attempt to do something a little different from the usual Oblivion realm boss fight, with a bunch of weaker enemies at the bottom of the spire to wear you down a bit before Asherkalz ripped your head off. I’m not entirely sure if I succeeded, but it turns out Oblivion spires are kind of hard to work with.

Once I figured out how to actually script cutscenes, I knew what needed to happen at the end of Kerrach. This entire sequence, from delivering the Heart of Kerrach to the King to the King sending his people to their long awaited deaths, is meant to give a proper emotional payoff to what has perhaps been several hours of dungeon crawl and questing, as well as rivaling anything else in the game for sheer power and spectacle. Thanks to some excellent voice work I think it works quite well. In fact, the voiceover here was such a success it led to dreams of voicing the entire mod, which I’ve discussed at some tragic length previously.

As a creator, there comes a certain point where you become somewhat bored with even the best ideas. You’ve playtested them to death, you’ve seen everything they have to give you a thousand times, and you’re just ready to be done and get it out the door.

Kerrach has never done that to me. Even at my most burnt out, I could always look at it and say This is going to be SO COOL. There are some things I could have done slightly better, some things I could tweak and mess around with and improve, but at its core Kerrach is what I wanted it to be – a really fun high level dungeon crawl with a variety of challenges. The quest is among my favorite, and even now that ending cutscene makes me feel a certain something.


While we’re here, let’s talk about my process for a moment. I run on scratch paper. Those sheets are covered in design notes, bug notes, random ideas, and who knows what else. Despite the seeming randomness, there is a method – note the map of Breakneck Lair with every enemy plotted out including patrol routes, and on the other side you can see a bunch of Kerrach notes, including a 3D view of the entire Spire of Shattered Hopes, a diagram of the Ageasel warp maze, and a diagram of the two different solutions to the runestone puzzle. It’s chaotic, and I couldn’t tell you what a lot of it means now, but it does work.


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AFK_Weye Commentaries: Main Quest, Part 3
By Dwip April 6, 2019, 1:26 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

In this post, we’ll conclude our discussion of AFK_Weye’s main questline by talking about the final two quests, Property Rights and When You Wish Upon a Star, as well as the epilogue miniquest The Priory of St. Serranus.

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AFK_Weye Commentaries: Main Quest, Part 2
By Dwip April 5, 2019, 3:43 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

In this one, we’ll be continuing our examination of AFK_Weye’s main questline by discussing the middle two quests – Family Ties and All That Glitters. As always, spoilers and other such things abound.

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